Union activist ‘Big Annie’ honored by labor hall of fame


For The Daily News

CALUMET – A century after the 1913-14 copper strike in Calumet, one of the key activists behind it got her due.

Anna “Big Annie” Clemenc was inducted into Labor’s International Hall of Fame at the Keweenaw National Historical Park’s Calumet Visitor’s Center Friday night.

In 1913, Clemenc became president of the Woman’s Alliance to support the miners’ cause. Once the strike began, Clemenc was known for leading many of the marches while waving a large American flag. She was the first woman of Slavic descent to have a public leadership role in the area, said Lyndon Comstock, an author of a book on Clemenc’s life, who nominated her for the award.

At the time of the strike, mining was extremely hazardous for the people down in the mines and only profitable for the people who sent them there.

One person died a week on average, and 11 were seriously injured. For that, they earned less than $3 a day ($70.76 in 2013 dollars).

Some critics have asserted that Clemenc’s role in the strikes has been overblown or was a media creation. But Comstock said his research shows otherwise.

“If you were to ask (the miners), I’d feel pretty sure they’d say Annie was out there in the streets every day helping to lead the pickets,” he said. For a contemporary example, Comstock mentioned the response Clemenc got from 500 miners when she attended a Congressional hearing on the strike in February 1914.

“They reportedly broke into applause when she walked into the room,” he said. “She is so embarrassed by this she turns and faces the wall.”

Clemenc’s great-granddaughter, Anne Marie Kelly, accepted the award on Clemenc’s behalf. Kelly called her a “powerful and strong woman.”

She’s still relevant today, Kelly said, referencing two girls in attendance Friday who had done projects on her.

“I think that there could be no greater tribute to her, than to know that her legacy is inspiring young women today to take a role to become more active,” she said.